In the hours before the end of the most tantalizing Premier League season in memory, the head of English soccer was busy pouring water over the fireworks.
Football Association boss Greg Dyke pronounced it “pretty depressing” that Manchester City was about to win its second title in three years. His beef? The Abu Dhabi-owned club only regularly field two English-born players – seal-flippered goalkeeper Joe Hart and tireless (i.e. chicken-headed) runner James Milner.
In schoolyard terms, these two are the kids that get picked for the team because their dad invented the ball.
It’s hard to take anything Dyke says on the subject of national robustness seriously. In his previous career as a TV executive, he is largely credited with introducing tabloid culture to terrestrial television. If you want to chart the decline of the Empire, watch 15 brain-melting minutes of The Only Way is Essex.
On cue, City went out and laid a 90-minute kicking on West Ham (fielding eight starters from the U.K. and Ireland).
As it ended, a great many Englishmen and women flooded onto the Etihad field. One was holding a sign that read, “Nobody Remembers Who Finished Second.” That’s a one-line rebuttal to the FA’s position.
The truth Dyke dare not speak aloud is that English players only continue to play at the top level in England because they’re cheap filler. As the game began, City had $250-million (all figures Canadian) worth of talent sitting on the bench. Those seven spectators cost five times more than West Ham’s starting squad.
City is growing into its position as a pan-European hate-absorbing device – a team built at ridiculous cost that is too deep to be overcome during a 38-game schedule. It isn’t the future any more. It is the present of modern soccer.
Having out-lasted its on-field competitors, it will begin a showdown with UEFA on Monday. European football’s governing body has slapped City with a $90-million fine related to the new Financial Fair Play regime, as well as roster limitations on next year’s Champions League squad and a wage freeze. Eight teams were similarly penalized. Only City has decided to fight.
The man who owns the team, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, controls 10 per cent of the world’s oil reserves. He probably knows a few lawyers. Since Financial Fair Play is an ad-hoc construct with no basis in law, here’s betting City wins that scrap as well.
People such as Dyke and UEFA boss Michel Platini are fighting wars that were lost years ago. This is the worst sort of posturing. That is to say, expensive and pointless.
As Dyke was trying to get his thumb in City’s eye, he was thinking past Sunday to Monday’s announcement of England’s World Cup roster.
You look down that presumptive 23-man list and there’s one player who would start regularly at an elite non-English club – Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney. Two or three names deep, and you’ve got a bunch of mopes that couldn’t get on the Spain bench if they volunteered to hand out water bottles.
As England heads toward a World Cup, there is generally some confidence it can perform well. It’s always hallucinatory, but it’s there. This time round, there’s none. England will be annihilated in Brazil, and everyone in England knows it.
This isn’t the Premier League’s fault. The league has passed the country by.
The EPL is the most successful sports enterprise in the world precisely because it welcomes all sorts. While it was still up for grabs, Italy’s Serie A and Germany’s Bundesliga chose isolationism. England chose expansiveness. It’s a little late for Dyke to start going all Enver Hoxha on us.
Since money always trumps penury in the name of patriotism, that’s never changing.
The English set-up needs to take a lesson from the likes of Brazil, the Netherlands and Argentina – if you want to succeed, leave home. Do not seek comfort; seek a challenge elsewhere. Learn a new language. Stretch yourself a little. It tends to bleed into other aspects of life.
This dovetails nicely into Platini’s financial crusade. First off, nothing he does can be trusted. All his causes are gauged to achieve one goal – making himself the head of FIFA once Sepp Blatter scuttles away.
This is beyond wisdom or rightness. Of course, it would be better if everyone played fair (whatever that means). Has he watched a game of soccer? Despite the slogans, they don’t play fair. They play to win. That’s why they’re paid so much. And so back to the beginning we go.
European soccer wanted to be the biggest going concern in the sports world. That aspiration attracted the richest people on the planet. They are willing to spend a fool’s fortune providing us with teams the likes of Manchester City – some of the finest in the history of the game. We are now truly in the era of the Superclub.
Having created the conditions that allowed them to be born, don’t waste time resenting them. Don’t try limiting them.
For once, it would be reassuring if someone on top could find it in their coal hearts to just enjoy them.